IT Management: CIO and CTO join forces

IT Management: CIO and CTO join forces


The lines between CIOs and CTOs are blurring. If competences and tasks are clearly defined, both can make a decisive contribution to the company’s success. […]

Most of the roles and responsibilities in top management are quite clearly defined: CFOs are responsible for all financial operations, COOs oversee day-to-day business, and CEOs manage the entire company.

With CIOs and CTOs, however, these areas of responsibility are increasingly becoming blurred. The fact that technologies and the way companies use them are changing so quickly doesn’t make things any easier. Nevertheless, many companies have both a CIO and a CTO. It is important that the two work together harmoniously to maximize the benefits of the technology used.

The daily tasks of the CIO and the CTO overlap depending on the company and its structure. In most cases, however, it is the CIO who oversees internal IT and its strategic value. The CTO, on the other hand, keeps himself and the company up to date on new technologies. He creates policies and procedures that use technology to improve products and services.

“I see the role of the CIO as a broader one, especially in terms of coordinating IT and business strategies,” explains James Rinaldi, senior IT consultant at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory research and development center. The CIO has overall responsibility for automation, process modernization and data architecture. In turn, the role of the CTO is most effective when it comes to evaluating new technologies and establishing them in the company. In addition, the CTO evaluates trends and seeks comparison with other companies.

A CTO usually focuses on “creating great experiences and offers for a company’s customers and partners,” says Vishal Gupta, who is both CTO and CIO and senior vice president of connected technology at printer manufacturer Lexmark.

CTOs need to work effectively with sales teams to gain access to strategic customers and partners. It is often about developing innovations for the future. On days typical of CTOs, the focus is on working with four important stakeholders: marketing and sales, customers and partners, internal technology teams and the external ecosystem.

In addition, CTOs must support their companies in creating an innovation roadmap. To do this, you should also work with managers from various business areas, as well as with the Board of Directors. Strategic partnerships with other CTOs and important providers in the industry are also essential.

“The CIO sets the vision and works with the CTO to make that vision a reality,” says Ash Athawale, senior managing Director for the Executive Search Practice Group at Robert Half, describing a common form of division of labor. In companies that have both a CIO and a CTO, the CTO usually has more technical knowledge and experience, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). If a company does not have a CIO, it is often up to the CTO alone to determine the technology strategy.

“In a sense, a CIO has a lot to do with operational leadership,” says Ozgur Aksakal, president of the Global CTO Forum, an independent organization for technology professionals. “The person closest to the CIO in a company is the COO. Its goal is to run the company efficiently.“ The role of the CTO, on the other hand, is more about generating revenue for the company. “A CTO is expected to develop competitive advantages that differentiate their own company on the market,” says Aksakal. “You don’t see the CTO as a cost center but as a profit center. He works with product development, marketing, technology and sales to make the company more successful.“

CTOs can make a difference and be successful, especially in market segments such as FinTech, InsurTec and LegalTech, where the focus is on developing tools to improve processes in these industries. “In areas like FinTech, it’s about developing products by scaling technology,” Aksakal emphasizes. “The leading companies in every industry are all technology-driven. And if you look behind the scenes, you realize that it was the CTO who made success possible in the first place.“

The titles CIO and CTO are becoming more and more interchangeable, observes Craig Stephenson, managing director of the North America Technology Officers Practice at the consulting firm Korn Ferry. “We see scenarios in which companies convey the change through a change of title,” says the expert. “In some cases, the CTO can continue to focus on the infrastructure, but in others, the CTO can also take over the strategic direction of the technology”.

Relations between CIO and CTO have become closer in recent years, according to Gupta. As a result, CITOs are more common, i.e. people who hold both functions. In order to improve transparency in the company, Lexmark, for example, considered it useful to combine its IT, software research and development groups under a single manager, which basically combines the CIO and CTO roles. “We wanted to create common competencies in areas such as design thinking, data science and cloud platforms in order to achieve results faster,” reports Gupta.

In his opinion, digital transformation is also contributing to the convergence of CIO and CTO functions. After all, companies often could not provide new solutions that use technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), cloud and artificial intelligence (AI) for their customers without also using them internally. This is the only way to understand how the technologies work and what advantages and challenges they bring.

Experts agree that CIOs and CTOs should cooperate closely whenever possible to increase the benefits of technologies for the company. The best way to do this is if the managers understand their different roles and balance their strengths, emphasizes Wendy Pfeiffer, CIO at the software company Nutanix.

CTOs are often technical engineers – they use technology to develop products. Your teams work best when the members can work productively and without restrictions. CIOs, on the other hand, are often seen more as plant engineers: they use technology to provide business services and optimize employee productivity. Your teams work best when the members are particularly efficient and effective.

In order to build a closer relationship between CIO and CTO, companies can take different paths. One of them is to keep the lines of communication open. “To be successful, CIOs, CTOs and their teams need to meet regularly to build trust and develop a deeper understanding of what the other side wants to achieve,” Gupta explains. “Open and transparent communication as well as joint town halls help both organizations to achieve more empathy and cooperation.“

NASA consultant Rinaldi observes that a relationship of trust has often already developed between the two roles, in which the CIO can rely on the CTO to bring the technical possibilities into line with the CIO’s plans. His advice is: CIO and CTO should work together on benchmarks and monitor trends to determine to what extent they might be relevant to the company

According to Rinaldi’s experience, it is also important that the CIO and CTO avoid potential conflicts by jointly managing far-reaching decisions on IT deployment and major technology investments, for example: “The CIO and the CTO should not enter into a competitive relationship, but try to benefit from each other as partners”

With material from IDG News Service

*Bastian Seebacher is a freelancer for the CIO and COMPUTERWOCHE editorial offices.

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